Conference in Erbil pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

Iraqis attend the conference of peace and reclamation organized by U.S. think-tank Center for Peace Communications (CPC) in Erbil, September 24, 2021. (AFP photo)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, attended a conference in the Kurdistan Region organized by a U.S. think-tank demanding a normalization of relations between Iraq and Israel, AFP cited organizers as saying on Saturday.

The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, where Israel’s sworn enemy Iran has a very strong influence, the conference took place on Friday and was organized by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC), AFP reported.

The CPC advocates for normalizing relations between Israel and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organizations.

AFP said the Kurdistan Region maintains “cordial contacts” with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Four Arab nations – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – last year agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a U.S.-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.

“We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords,” AFP quoted Sahar al-Tai, one of the attendees, as saying, reading a closing statement in a conference room at a hotel in Erbil.

“Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel,” she said.

“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call,” added Tai, head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s culture ministry.

The 300 participants at the conference came from across Iraq, according to CPC founder Joseph Braude, a U.S. citizen of Iraqi Jewish origin.

They included Sunni and Shiite representatives from “six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddin, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon,” extending to tribal chiefs and “intellectuals and writers”, he told AFP by phone.

Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late president Shimon Peres.

“Normalization with Israel is now a necessity,” said Sheikh Rissan al-Halboussi, an attendee from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the UAE.

Kurdish Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Israel over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalize ties with the Jewish state, which itself backed a 2017 independence referendum in the autonomous region, according to AFP.

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